Posture and Work Station Tips

People are dynamic individuals, whose bodies can adapt to perform a variety of tasks. How you are interacting with your environment, whether sitting at a desk or standing at a counter, will make a difference in how your body responds to the environment. This is Ergonomics. Application of good ergonomic principles allows you to participate in physical activities in a healthy manner that minimizes the development of musculoskeletal imbalances.

You can improve your ergonomics with the right tools:

  • Good habits
  • Variety
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular health
  • A healthy lifestyle

Knowledge of the principles of good alignment

For most activities performed over any length of time, the key is to reduce the strain on your body.

  • Good habits
  • Variety
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular health
  • A healthy lifestyle

Proper alignment varies, depending on the task you are performing. What may be good alignment while you are standing brushing your teeth is different than when you are sitting in a car, typing on a computer or swinging a golf club . Good alignment may also vary slightly from person to person, depending on body type or existing injuries and diseases.

Here a few guidelines for standing and sitting alignment. There are several “natural” curves in the spine . As a general rule, these should be preserved and supported.

Standing Alignment

In standing, we imagine looking at the side view of a person, with a vertical line drawn from the head to the feet. It is important that this line passes through certain landmarks. In descending order, these are the front of the ear, the side of the shoulder, the side of the hip, the side of the knee and the side of the ankle, as shown. Any deviation in this alignment usually indicates undue strain on the spine and musculoskeletal system. We can also imagine a front view of a person standing. Here, we look for symmetry, including:

  • even weight bearing on each foot
  • leveling of the shoulders and pelvis, and
  • symmetry of the head, neck and shoulders

Sitting Alignment

In good sitting alignment, the feet are supported, the hips and knees are level (or the hips are slightly above the knees), the spine is vertical or slightly reclined, and the small arch in the low back is maintained. If sitting at a computer:

  • the shoulders are relaxed down away from the ears
  • the elbows are by the side bent to about 90 degrees
  • the wrists are neutral (not bent up, down or away from each other), and
  • the head is facing front without protruding forward.

It is easy to imagine how environmental factors might influence sitting alignment. For instance, in a very low seat, such as in certain cars, it is not possible to keep the hips and knees level. A bucket seat in a car will bring the hips very low to the ground and the knees will be higher. In a very deep soft seat, such as in certain couches, it is very difficult to keep the small arch in the low back without propping a pillow behind you.

Good habits
Good habits ensure that you apply these principles consistently. Often we unconsciously slip into old, unhealthy movement habits, even if we know the “proper” way to do something. Learning to apply good postural and movement habits consistently is a skill. Developing new skills takes practice.

Variety
Variety in your movement is essential to good ergonomics. Think of yourself as the conductor of your own orchestra. A skilled conductor can conduct numerous songs equally well, not just Beethoven’s 5th symphony. You are the master of your own posture and movement, and when healthy and skilled, you are able to use good body mechanics in a variety of situations.

We have the potential to create a tremendous variety of movement patterns and postures. However, as a result of the physical demands placed on us by repetitive work tasks we often adopt a small number of movements and postures. These repeated movement habits can lead to the development of pain and musculoskeletal dysfunction. The good news is that the development of pain and dysfunction is usually preventable, and in the instances where the process has already begun, it can often be reversed.

Flexibility
Common areas of decreased flexibility in the upper body include the front of the chest and the muscles between the neck and shoulder blades. Here is a regiment of sitting exercises that may be helpful for those who spend most of the day working at a computer workstation. The framing the door exercise is useful in promoting good posture while you are sitting. Neck stretches for the upper trapezius and levator scapula muscles help to relax the neck while you’re working. View some helpful exercises.

Strength
Strength is the ability to exert force on an object. Sometimes we need strength for quick movements and other times we need strength for endurance. In either case, it is essential to have balance among the various muscle groups. Common areas of decreased strength that contribute to muscle imbalance include the abdominals, the buttock muscles and the muscles that connect the shoulder blades to the back. Click here to view exercises.

Cardiovascular Health
Maintaining the health of your heart, circulatory system and lungs prepares you to meet the physical demands of the activities in which you engage. Regularly engaging in cardiovascular activities such as walking, running, cycling or swimming prepares you to interact with your environment in a safe and efficient manner. For more information on heart and lung health, visit these sites:

A note about your activities: The intensity, frequency and duration of activities you perform have a significant impact on your body. As an example, think about going bowling. Whether you use a light or heavy ball impacts the intensity of the activity. Bowling monthly, weekly or daily relates to frequency. Bowling for five minutes, 45 minutes, or 4-5 hours relates to duration. Increasing the intensity, frequency and duration of activities can potentially increase the strain on your body. It is important to balance these factors when participating in work and leisure activities.

A Healthy Lifestyle
This includes good nutrition, low stress levels and light use of caffeine and alcohol. Removing emotional, psychological and physical stressors from your life improves your body’s resiliency and adaptability.

Your Environment
Even with basic knowledge about how to care for one’s body, sometimes people still develop work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Understanding the principles of good alignment, good habits, variety, flexibility, strength, cardiovascular health and a healthy lifestyle isn’t enough. One must also adjust the work environment to meet individual needs. The human body is very adaptive, and tries to accommodate itself to all situations. Poorly designed work spaces may lead to unhealthy postural adaptations. Often people try to fit themselves into the environment. The key is making the work environment fit you! Sometimes this requires only very small adjustments, such as raising or lowering the height of a seat or the distance of a computer monitor. In other instances, more significant changes may need to be made. Click here for basic guidelines when setting up a computer workstation.

Activities
The intensity, frequency and duration of activities you perform have a significant impact on your body. As an example, think about going bowling. Whether you use a light or heavy ball impacts the intensity of the activity. Bowling monthly, weekly or daily relates to frequency. Bowling for five minutes, 45 minutes, or 4-5 hours relates to duration. Increasing the intensity, frequency and duration of activities can potentially increase the strain on your body. It is important to balance these factors when participating in work and leisure activities.

Physical Therapy And Ergonomics

With the information presented here you may be on your way to making some healthy adjustments to your daily routine, your environment, or your choice of activities. You also may have some questions about what your next step should be, and how you can apply this information to your specific needs. Is there something about your workstation setup that could be contributing to your neck pain? Could the limited flexibility in your legs have any impact on your back pain? In looking for answers to questions like these, a physical therapist may be of help to you. Physical therapists can help you understand how to achieve optimal ergonomics to meet your unique and individual needs.

Physical therapists are experts at evaluating musculoskeletal factors that contribute to dysfunction. They can identify physical impairments, such as flexibility, mobility and strength deficits, and utilize a variety of modalities to help you address them. Physical therapists understand the specific demands placed upon the body by an array of different activities. They understand how the specific activity you engage in and the unique individualities of your physical composition interact to create biomechanical stresses that further perpetuate pain and dysfunction. Whether you goal is to reduce pain, prevent injury, maintain fitness, or return to work or athletics, at The Spine Center, you can work with your therapist to design and implement an individualized treatment program that addresses your needs.

Helpful Exercises
Check our Helpful Exercises with instructions and illustrations.

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